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Imagine a world where people buy products at the store by waving a hand near a sensor, where people “think” up a business report at work rather than typing one up, and where an augmented-reality gets projected in front of our eyes with specialty contact lenses. These ideas are closer to reality than you may realize.

It was only the 1980s and 1990s when science fiction movies portrayed people using handheld devices to navigate city streets or pinpoint one’s own location on Earth. These movies had characters who would state questions to a disembodied computer, which would intelligently provide the answers. They showed families having video-chat calls using flat-panel displays that made the tech geeks of the 1980’s drool.

In barely three decades, many of the things that science fiction writers could only imagine have become reality. Had someone predicted that these technologies would become reality this quickly, they would have been laughed at. Today, no one is laughing.

With the current trend of technical innovation and advancement, now is a good time to explore the state of the art in computer-human technologies, to try and gauge what the world may look like in the next 20 or 30 years.

Implanted Microchip ID

In 1998, British scientist Kevin Warwick had himself implanted with an RFID transmitter to prove out the concept of controlling doors, lights and other devices simply by walking nearby. By 2000, Warwick was able to interface his implant with his own nervous system, allowing him to remotely control a robotic arm. This experiment was detailed in a February 2000 Wired article.

Yes, the technology was real and quite viable back the, and by 2004 the FDA had approved VeriChip, the branded computer chip implant manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions, to be used for medical purposes.

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rfid-implant

While one would expect the ability to implant a rice-sized RFID device just under the skin of a human to spark a proliferation of products and services enabling card-free and paper-free human identification in places like hospitals, bars and for store purchases – that isn’t at all what happened.

In fact, the backlash was tremendous. Privacy advocates raised alarms about the ability for hackers to intercept someone’s RFID signal and duplicate the device in order to steal someone’s identity (a real concern). Religious extremists proliferated content all throughout the Internet forewarning that VeriChip signaled the approaching Armageddon and the “sign of the beast” (666).

The public outcry against the technology was so great that PositiveID, the company that owned the VeriChip brand in 2010, discontinued all marketing for the product. The public simply was not ready to embrace widespread implanted identification.

Still – the technology and it’s use is moving forward. Legions of body modification “grinders” are actively injecting these things between thumb and forefinger.

One such body hacker by the name of Amal Graafstra got one of the implants, and actively chronicles his installation of various RFID toys that he remotely controls with his implant.

I see Amal’s kind of love of implanted technology growing throughout society, while I see the superstitious fear of it fading away just as fear of most other inventions have faded away over time.

Electronic Hearing Implants

I’m also convinced that implants are going to become integrated with all of our senses, as a way for humans to enhance those senses through the use of advancing computer technologies. As computer systems become more miniaturized, the possibilities in this area multiply.

Take, for example, the field of cochlear implants.
cochlear-implant
These devices have external processors that is held to the under-the-skin implant by a magnet. The processor transfers audio signals to the implant, which then transmits those signals to an electrode array that gets surgically inserted deep into the cochlear itself.  The implant bypasses that part of the cochlear that doesn’t work, and electrically stimulates the nerve fibers to reproduce the sounds.

cochlear-implant2

Today, this kind of surgery seems pretty invasive and extreme, but imagine the day when wireless technologies allow a person to have a single implant inserted into the cochlear, and then a transmitter worn anywhere on the body, or implanted somewhere on the ear itself, could transmit sound directly to the cochlear without any wire necessary.

Seem far fetched? It’s not. Just this year, MIT researchers developed a new microchip that could be implanted into the ear, which could use sensors to detect ossicle vibrations in the inner ear, convert those to an electrical signal, and send that to the electrode inserted into the cochlea. By lowering the power needs of the device, the researchers proposed that the device could be recharged wirelessly, removing the need for the hardware mounted externally on the skull!

In other words, the day of the undetectable bionic ear is here.

Contact Lenses – Bionic Eyes

Google Glasses 5 Reasons Why Google's Project Glass Is The Future & Why That's Awesome [Opinion] 5 Reasons Why Google's Project Glass Is The Future & Why That's Awesome [Opinion] Google’s Project Glass has everyone talking. It’s a glimpse of the future of augmented reality, wearable computing, and better integration of the Internet and technology in our day-to-day lives. Imagine replacing your smartphone with a... Read More is all the rage these days, but the real allure of this technology is the concept of augmenting human vision with external information. The idea of wearing a pair of gaudy glasses to accomplish this seems tolerable to many tech geeks, but how cool would it be to simply slip on a pair of contact lenses that accomplish the same thing, but only requiring a really cool-looking pair of shades?

This is exactly what a company by the name of Innovega introduced at CES 2014. That is, a contact lens that basically allows the light of a projected digital image to be superimposed upon the regular light of your normal vision, resulting in a “single integrated image”.

The contact lens “tricks” the eye so that it can see a high resolution, large field-of-view display overlaying your regular vision. It’s clearly the cutting edge of augmented reality technology, and if successful it will finally allow people to see high-resolution digital images and content in a way that Google Glasses just doesn’t offer yet.

contact-lens2

Who the winners will be in these arena is not totally clear just yet, but one thing that’s for certain is that visual augmented reality is something that promises to completely transform the world, so long as the devices and the technology can be integrated with the human body in a way that is unobtrusive and tolerable.

Is Innovega on the right track with the use of contact lenses? Possibly, but only time will tell.

The Mind-Machine Connection

When I first heard about the mind-control game called Mindflex, I was initially disgusted. I’ve spent years writing about the pseudoscience behind all sorts of psychic claims, and here is a game being marketed to children as a “mind control” device. My first reaction was to try and debunk the device.

Wasn’t I surprised to learn that Mattel was one of the first companies clever enough to integrate of EEG-style brain-wave reading technology into a game. In 2010, three neuroscientists tested the device to confirm it really works, and posted the video to YouTube.

The game really only detects the level of your brain waves Program The Binaural Beats Of Your Brain With Gnaural Program The Binaural Beats Of Your Brain With Gnaural Every music fan knows a good tune can change your mood, but is it possible for sounds to actually alter your brainwaves? Believers in binaural beats think so. They claim these sounds, when listened to... Read More which reflects your mental focus. The sharper your mental focus, the faster a fan turns, which in turn elevates a foam ball. It isn’t quite mind control, but it’s about as close as modern technology can get.

This may seem like it’s just a game to improve your brain fitness 10 Ways to Enhance Brain Fitness Online 10 Ways to Enhance Brain Fitness Online Read More , but is this actually a sign of more amazing devices to come? I think so, yes. In fact, a clue that this is happening came at the end of 2013 when University of Washington researchers sent one person’s brain signal over the Internet, and used that signal to control the gross motor actions of a second person’s hand at the other end of the UW campus.

The second scientist wore a specially designed cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed directly over the part of his motor cortex responsible for hand movement. The brain wave “trigger” worked, and the second scientist’s hand moved in what he described later as a “nervous tic”.

The experiment highlights what the Mattel brain game Three Challenging Puzzle Games to Rack Your Brain Three Challenging Puzzle Games to Rack Your Brain Read More had already proved – that brain waves can be measured and used to manipulate the world, without anything more than the power of your mind. The only question that remains now is how this new use of EEG technology will further integrate humans with the computers that we love so much.

Do you think the pace of human-machine interfacing will pick up in coming years? Can you think of any creative ideas for these technologies? Share your own thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

Image Credits: Pixeled Barcode by Maksim Kabakou at Shutterstock, Ear anatomy by dream designs at Shutterstock, cochlear implant by Elizabeth Hoffmann at Shutterstock

  1. Aneel Goplani
    May 6, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Very interesting to read and speculate.

  2. Dean
    February 7, 2016 at 2:09 am

    A person criminal spy trouble maker is using this already in central Wisconsin and is using it on a relative of the President and they don't even know it...., but the person they are using it, on started figuring it out and is taking in every bit of information they can find and read and oh my GOD that person who is doing this is going to be in huge trouble and make the victim rich!! OH YES this will be and I hope the FBI will also find this spy thug criminal and put them behind bars! Because the threats and the criminal stuff this person has been talking about doing to others.. is going to be a hell of a eye opener for Wisconsin! Oh My this implant and brain implant t stuff is going to dig up a lot of trouble and criminal stalking's, crime of every kind and undertakings that will ruin this world and someone is hearing a wack case talk about how it will be done!

  3. Dug
    January 11, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    There is a new faked implants scam set-up using real implants or cell phone implants and or spy type implants to hear everything you say or track you ect, it is a targeting system that beats the real law system...., They say your a mental retard and a problem or your not like everyone else and embarrassing when you really are not..and what your doing is none of their business and should be the cops business and even do a fake background check to target anything that they can screw you over to make you look bad....hook you up through a dental operation or a faked blood draw and giving you the results, while inserting an illegal unauthorized government implant mechanism that has listening / total tracking and mind reading software and then can send voice signals to harass the heck out of you saying your a behavioral problem and without a real doctors/patients advise or close family even knowing about this.. and if you say your going to go to the cops they threaten you by saying they will change your background through hacking police records, so your a sex offender and even pay people from your past to agree with them to screw you oevr..It's a money making scam and they can put you away at the same time!
    They need to let people give permission or s written statement for these implants because how would you know if these implanter were enemy terrorists or faked satiation or an person who does not like you and thinks they can get rid of you using this implant stuff! And who is really listening and for what and who give anyone to act like God or even your personal cop or advisor when it's not a real authorized law or court ran situation!
    This how a revenge artist can get you as what I researched and actually heard!

    • Dug
      January 11, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Someone is doing this in Central Wisconsin and it is illegal as heck dental doctors and psychiatrist and behavioral advice people need to be monitored for use of implants and computer technologists and maybe even people who run prisons, because I read they use these on them in some prisoners and veterans use them for problems form war also...also because they know about the technology or know about it and hackers could get their information and abuse anyone and this is what individual targeting with mind control is all about!!

  4. Neil Oldman
    May 29, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Yikes, this stuff is terrifying. To the guy who wrote about having Justin Bieber played 24/7 in the cochlear implant... who's to say the government wouldn't do this as a form of torture? It's already been revealed that they played the "Barney" theme ad nauseam to "suspected" terrorists (not Bush, of course) to force them to crumble and reveal things (they probably just said whatever they felt would convince the guards to shut off that darn jingle). Or what about the potential for a Manchurian Candidate of sorts having "voices" whispered in his (or her!) ear to commit a violent act, then being locked up in a loony bin when s/he says "there were voices in my head telling me to do this, the government implanted a chip"?

    I'd venture that a good third of Americans would willingly volunteer anyway to do horrible things to this current president because he's "the other." What happens if something like this gets into the wrong hands and persuades a troubled (or even not-so-troubled) person who might NOT be one of them, to pull another JFK on the first female, gay, transgender, Hispanic, Jewish, Islamic, or atheist president, while the forces of the shadowy vanguard cover their own behinds?

    One can easily argue that any/all technologies discovered since the wheel and fire have been used for good (or neutral) as well as evil purposes. There remains a line that needs to be drawn, however. The "transhumanists" (like the guy who's always spamming Huff Post and Boing Boing with his stupid book) need to have their heads examined (and not by a Google engineer or a Macintosh "genius"). I mean geez, did Snowden teach us nothing about what governments and power-hungry profiteers will do with these futuristic tools? I believe it was Jack Kevorkian who developed a "suicide laptop" that ran on (no joke) Windows ME some years ago. Maybe that's a better solution overall than creating human drones or AI or "consciousness uploading" to the Internet or something outlandish and potentially nefarious like that. All the technology in the world hasn't been able to cure human selfishness. In fact, I'd say it plays right into it and feeds the beast.

  5. Erlis D
    May 26, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I hate this technology. What humans are doing is not improve the technology we have now, but create anew that shows us illusions! I don't understand why people don't work on a technology that would make our lives better, but on something useless, or maybe dangerous, which might make our life more non-human that it already is... I am a technology lover, but not of this technology! If you feel something is wrong with your body, go to the doctor, like we always do. Why do you need RFID toy on your body so the doctor knows every time what is happening with your body! We are on a road where on streets will walk robo sapiens, in a very near future... Thank you, for this wonderful technology!

  6. Faustin
    May 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Stop being overly paranoid about the possibility of your brains being hacked. As mentioned, 99% of you guys qualify as "average Joe" and I would have no interest in hacking you! there already exist a thousand and one ways of hacking a man's brain...

  7. surendra
    May 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Hope it will do some good for human race.

  8. Ben
    May 13, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Yeah, well that's life. There's always going to be a potential downside to EVERYTHING.

  9. Ben
    May 13, 2014 at 4:53 am

    Yes, I think this line of "Braincomps" will evolve much more rapidly, even in the next two years, alone. I also have one, boldly ingenious idea (which I'd want to be able to test myself), for how to push the technology, "brain implant digital cameras" that could store pictures (or video, for that matter), to your phone (or tablet), via an app.

    • Michael R
      May 13, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      Then, when your wife asks you "What are you looking at?" She can then call up your app and get you into all sorts of trouble. Actually, the BBC anthology "The Black Mirror" had an episode like that where folks could replay events that they experienced.

  10. Brian T
    May 13, 2014 at 12:54 am

    @RyanD
    I seriously doubt that focusing microwaves into any part of the human skull will do anything other than perhaps cook that area slightly more than is healthy. What I think that you're trying to say is that one could use targeted ultra-high frequency sounds using multiple sources and create an interference pattern within someone's cochlea that creates the auditory signals that generate sounds within their head. Also, with this latter method, there's far less risk of causing permanent damage. Just be sure to keep the volume tolerable.

    OK, small pet peeve within the article. Would you please correct all the instances of 'cochlear' where you in fact mean 'cochlea'. This particular kind of error in editing makes people like me twitch (mildly OCD).

    Overall, good article, and interesting story.

  11. Lou Leib
    May 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    You should check out the "Center for Implantable Devices" at Purdue University and the work they are doing in these areas and others.

    • Ryan D
      May 13, 2014 at 1:17 am

      Just looked over the website quickly - there's some impressive work there. Thanks for mentioning it.

  12. Andres
    May 12, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    No Emotiv? The head of the company spoke on TED about their "Insight" model.

    • Ryan D
      May 13, 2014 at 1:17 am

      Thanks for the heads-up. Will have to check that out!

  13. John W
    May 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    I think the positives outweigh the negatives. If an implant can make a person able to hear again then imagine the possibilities of being able to un-brick a brain that has been literally "bricked" by accidentally hitting a wall.

    As for all being paranoid about being hacked, I think we all inflate our own importance. Let's face it who would go to all the trouble to hack the average Joe? What "secrets"might they discover, your Facetube password? The back door code for your shelf stacking job? On the other hand, hacking the implanted RFID of those working in high security areas would only apply to very, very few individuals.

    Ease-up, admire the amazing forward rush of high tech. Just sit back and watch the twinkling lights in astonishment .....

    • Ryan D
      May 13, 2014 at 1:16 am

      I agree. I still hesitate when I consider if I would try out such implants, but then all you have to do is imagine lacking a faculty like hearing to realize just have valuable implants already are. It isn't a very big step into using them for enhancements rather than just "fixing" things...

  14. Kristen
    May 12, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    haha....I would like to hack my own brain at times. I would hack it right now and tell myself to get off the computer and get to work !! Wow, it worked.....Good day everyone !! Keep the brain waves positive and influential toward others : - )..................

  15. Tom W
    May 11, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I've long dreamed of a microchip integrated with the brain that can be used to augment thinking power with computer power, so that the things like large number calculations that we find so difficult become as natural as recognising a face. It could also integrate with the internet and allow easy access to the distributed information that our society is built around.

    I've always believed, however, that only highly technical people should be allowed these devices. Every form of technology ever invented has been hacked. The average person seems to be unable to properly protect their computer, so allowing them to have one of these devices implanted would be disastrous. A bricked phone or computer is an annoyance, at best. A bricked brain is far more serious.

    Some form of qualifying circumstances would have to be combined with a knowledge / competence test, but even that would probably prove to be insufficient.

    • hadd
      May 12, 2014 at 3:37 am

      You're talking C-3P0 stuff that isn't quite ready yet:P

    • Ryan D
      May 12, 2014 at 5:36 am

      A "bricked brain" - what a crazy concept. I suppose if such an implant could disrupt the normal flow of information throughout the brain - but if the implant was only supposed to serve as an "input" device to augment thinking power, maybe not as likely? Of course this is all speculative since, as Hadd says, this is C-3P0 stuff. Still fun to think about though.

    • Tom W
      May 12, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      There would need to be a two-way information flow. If it gets hacked, someone has access to your brain and can send "thoughts" to it, which could cause it damage. As well as this, it wouldn't take long before the functionality of these devices increases and age of implantation decreases. In a few generations, you have a whole society who have become totally dependant on these chips. At that point, shutting down the chip may well be the same as shutting down the brain. All of this is more science fiction than science fact, of course, but I like to look ahead.

    • Brian T
      May 13, 2014 at 12:59 am

      Nice, welcome to Wolphram|Alpha: Brain Project ;)

      With the caveats mentioned by others, I can see this being very helpful to those of us whose brains just don't like calculating large numbers, complex numbers, imaginary numbers and other bizarre (but useful) tidbits of maths.

    • Hanson
      September 2, 2014 at 2:34 am

      I think that someone, either state, foundation or university funded has long ago figured short cut end arounds to implement instant, very reliable 1 & 2 way brain hacking telepathy on non-volunteers who have been successfully locked into an e-prison that is meant to resemble delusion & psychosis when described.

      IOW, you can get away with anything as long as methods & technology used resemble aspects of paranoia & insanity.

      The following example will sound completely off the wall:

      complete sleep deprivation by way of remote psychic driving (repeated baby talk with each word in 3-4 part unison) & directed remote acoustic frequencies (brain & organ stim) for months while keeping the person alive & functioning. Sleep deprivation causes vocal centers in the brain to be overstimulated to the point where all thoughts are reflected sub-vocally in the vocal chords where they can be read with sensors word for word.

      In real time practicality nothing so elaborate is needed for
      2 way telepathy bypassing the brain or not. Someone has figured out a way w/o all the jazzy headset sensors.

      Remote sensors are more like it. They've figured that out also with embedded tech. IMO, it was figured out decades ago....deliberately stupid diversionary "mind control" & MKUltra videos on YT notwithstanding.

  16. dragonmouth
    May 11, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    "Implanted Microchip ID"
    I bet governments love that. No more need for any pther ID. Can be tracked 24/7/365 all over the world.

    "the company that owned the VeriChip brand in 2010, discontinued all marketing for the product."
    I noticed you did not say that the company discontinued production.

    • Ryan D
      May 12, 2014 at 5:31 am

      Yup - I thought the same thing when I saw that wording in news reports from 2010. It appears they renamed the brand to PositiveID, and they focus more on "biological detection systems for America's homeland defense industry"...whatever that means.

  17. Christopher W
    May 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Main worry: Getting hacked. I do NOT want someone blasting Justin Bieber into my cochlear implant, thank you very much.

    • hadd
      May 12, 2014 at 3:35 am

      perfect way to fuck with someone though...Like let's someone has one, and they have stolen from you and vandalized. You hack it and they'll be like "Are you my conscience..." "Yes, I'm your consciene, we haven't spoken in a while. Im going to ask you to give back all the stuff you stole to the rightful owners a long with a compensation fee of 300 dollars for having to buy a whole new phone or object. if you don't then the other guy who sits on your other shoulder is gonna getta a hefty wad of cash and make your life miserable."

    • Ryan D
      May 12, 2014 at 5:34 am

      Technically, I think you can inject sounds into someone's head through the use of the right microwave frequency directed right at their head....given it's not very practical, but seems just as likely as someone hacking into an embedded microchip... It would make for a pretty cool futuristic movie though. I'm sure that plotline must have been done already... (If not I reserve first rights to the idea.) :-)

    • Christopher W
      May 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      So if I'm getting it right, Hadd...you would sell your soul, and then lease it back?
      This sounds like a tax dodge.
      Oh, oh....I just put an idea in some clever legisltator's mind: The "Soul Tax".

      Blame me.

    • Christopher W
      May 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      And Ryan, if you ever saw "Ghost", there was a scene where Patrick Swayze sings "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" to Whoopie Goldberg for a few hours until she gets in touch with his still-living girlfriend.

      Ouch.

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